Channel 4’s Dispatches: The Truth About Traveller Crime’ (broadcast 16th April, 2020) reminds us of the distortive power of popular media, particularly when representing mobile communities. Not only did the programme fail to adhere to core journalistic standards, it was directed by someone who had previously made public her prejudices against Gypsies/Roma/Travellers and by all accounts deliberately misled those very few community members who contributed to the programme as to its exact nature.
Given that those who act on their prejudices are not known for rigorous fact-checking, media misrepresentation has been shown to have a serious effect on all mobile communities and their relations with the wider world. Prior TV productions such as My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (2011-16, and also Channel 4, and also from its Dispatches strand) and STV’s Taggart elicited negative repercussions for Travellers ranging from harassment to abuse, often targeted at children and young people.
In this case, however, activists and community members were swift and coordinated in their response (Twitter is good for some things!) with the result being that Ofcom is currently investigating the programme following a record number of submissions. But as positive as these developments have been, the controversy highlights the importance of close engagement with the media and, where the context offered in popular programming is poorly fleshed out or downright wrong, countering with well researched, high-quality information.
Writing for Scottish Journal The Drouth, Fair Glasgow’s own Candace Thomas has taken up this challenge, publishing an interlinked essay series on GRTs and Showpeople in the UK. Offering an account rich in personal experience and scrupulous research, it goes beyond the flaws in the Dispatches Documentary to show what a considered, well thought out exploration of these issues could have looked like.
You can read the first two parts here: